• Karla Benzl MD

How to Talk about Difficult Topics with the Littles

Updated: Sep 24, 2020

Talking about difficult realities is tough, and 2020 has been a year.  Suddenly we are finding ourselves explaining things to the little ones that perhaps we thought we would never have to, or at least not until they are older. With all difficult topics,  there are certain things we can emphasize with young children to help them feel safer. 

#1. Acknowledge the problem.

Kids are smart and notice their environment. They notice when adults are concerned as well. I don't recommend lying to children, but there are ways to frame problems that can seem less scary.

I will use the recent fires as an example, but feel free to insert hurricanes, Coronavirus, etc. The orange, hazy sky provoked a few questions over here, as my son couldn't help but notice the abnormal view.


Child: "Why is the sky orange? Why can't we go outside?"

Adult: “There are fires going on in the forests, and the smoke is causing the hazy sky. The weather is getting warmer and this makes fires more likely. “

# 2: Explore the feelings. Normalize, share, connect.


Adult: “How are you feeling right now thinking about the fires?”, Child: "I feel sad." Adult: “I understand, I feel sad, too. “ 

# 3:  Emphasize safety. Highlight what is being done in the household, and beyond, to address the problem and keep everyone safe. Emphasize that your child can always share his/her concerns with you or another safe adult, and hugs are very appropriate right now.


Adult: “Because there are fires, your father and I (or mother, other caregiver, teachers) are paying close attention to the weather report.  We have a map where we can see the fires. We have packed emergency supplies. The firefighters are working hard to control the fires.  The fires will eventually be put out. "

# 4:  Emphasize agency.  Agency in psychology refers to the ability of an individual to exert some control over his/her environment and ability to function, thus having some influence over life events. What are the actions that your little one can do in this situation that is appropriate for her/his age? Brainstorm with him/her. 


Adult: “You don’t  have to worry about the fires because mom and dad (mommies/daddies/caregivers) are keeping watch and keeping us safe.  I can show you our emergency supplies and safety plan. However,  because the weather is getting warmer,  here are things we can do to help the environment, such as recycle, support local farmers,  plant trees,  walk or use the bike instead of the car,  write letters to politicians, donate to families in need, talk, for example. What would you like to do? What ideas do you have?"

I hope this brief guide helps. We have a few months ahead of us!

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